You’ve decided to go on an extended travel journey. Great! You’ll have wonderful adventures and memories to last a lifetime. As you’re planning your big adventure, you’ll soon realize that there are lots of everyday tasks and issues which will require different ways to handle them. A big one of which I’m often questioned is how to deal with postal mail and bills. After all, life at home doesn’t simply stop while you’re away. Here are some suggestions based on how we prepared for our trip. For the younger generation, most of these will seem obvious, but for many older folks who didn’t grow up with the internet and smart phones, switching from old manual methods isn’t always easy or intuitive. Be sure to set all this up well in advance of your trip to give it a couple of billing cycles to work out the kinks.
Reduce the Incoming
The first thing you’ll need to do is reduce the amount of mail you receive daily. It’s probably a good idea to do this even if you’re not going on a trip. Stop magazine subscriptions and opt out of mailing lists. Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. Another way to reduce your junk mail is DMAChoice.org and CatalogChoice.org. Both these sites help you get fewer direct mailings and catalogs in your mailbox, however, CatalogChoice is free and DMAChoice costs $2. Don’t expect immediate results as it can take up to three months for your name and address to be removed from mailing lists.
Take Advantage of Online Banking
Most major banks and credit unions offer online banking to pay your bills and manage your accounts. Using their online banking streamlines your bill paying process and makes it easy to keep on top of your finances while traveling. For security, I recommend having more than one bank account while you travel. We had three different accounts, two of which could be accessed with an ATM card. Should something happen and your account is compromised, you risk only losing the amount in that one account.
We specifically thought about the express kidnappings that are occurring in Latin America where hostages are told to withdraw money out of their accounts until it’s drained. We kept a stealth account where the bulk of our money was held, but wasn’t linked to any of our ATM or credit cards and direct withdraws weren’t possible. Transfers to our ATM accessible accounts could only be initiated from the stealth account. This allowed us to keep less money in accounts that could be compromised and have the majority of our money in a hidden account.
Switch to Paperless
Almost every company that sends you a paper bill offers paperless billing using your email and internet. Call or visit each company’s web site to find out how to switch over to paperless billing. At the same time, you could also set up your bills for auto payment. If you receive payments each month, you can be paid through direct deposit or ACH payments. Many federal and state agencies can direct deposit into your bank account, but what if you’re getting other payments such as rent checks or royalties? Ask your tenants if they can set up electronic payments through their bank. If not, they can use one of several online payment services such as PayPal, Square Cash, Google Wallet, Venmo, or Chase Quick Pay. All of these services are free to receive money. Most royalty payments have the option to deposit into a PayPal account. Even with all these options, there are still many places that will still only send you a paper statement or a check, and for these old-school methods, you’ll need a different service.
Sign up for Mail Scanning
If you’re only gone for a month or two, putting a hold on your mail and having it accumulate at the post office is an option that costs nothing, however, you risk not getting important mail that is time sensitive. Another option is to have a temporary forwarding order to a friend or relative whom you trust, but do you really want to burden someone with the job of dealing with your mail? When you decide to get serious about eliminating your postal mail, the next step is going all digital.
Mail scanning services receive your mail, scan the outside of the envelope or package, and send you a notification by email or through an app that you’ve received new mail. You choose which pieces of mail you want opened and scanned, which to forward to another address, and which to have securely disposed. Since most services charge based on the number of scans, it makes sense to first reduce the amount of paper-based mail you receive.
Most services will keep the physical copy of your mail for at least a week, which is the minimum time just in case you don’t have internet access for a while. Some will keep mail for up to two months before securely disposing of it. For an extra charge, they can continue to keep the physical copies or forward your mail to another address. Most scanning services also can deposit checks you receive for a small fee, however, I found that the scan quality was good enough that I could deposit checks through my bank’s online deposit using just the mail scans.
The top mail scanning services as of the date of this article are Earth Class Mail and Traveling Mailbox. Earth Class Mail is convenient because their scanning service also includes OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that allows you to perform searches on your mail. Traveling Mailbox offers physical addresses in major cities throughout the U.S. so they can accept package deliveries as well as mail. During our trip, we used Traveling Mailbox and had a very good experience with them with very few issues. Customer service was excellent and the tiered pricing was reasonable. Discounts are available if you sign up and pay for a year in advance.
Mail scanning services require a commitment because you’ll need to change your mailing address with anyone that sends you mail. When you sign up for a mail scanning service, you’ll receive your new address which you can immediately start using. You should sign up for service at least a couple of months before you leave to have time to notify people and companies of your new address. It will also give you time to make sure you’re receiving your mail and to work out any issues with the service.
After you sign up for a service, you’ll also need to file a notarized USPS Form 1583 which gives your scanning service permission to receive and open your mail. Once they receive Form 1583, you’re all set. A week or two before you leave, you should also file a temporary change of address/forwarding order to your new address with the post office to catch the mail you may have overlooked. At the end of your trip, you can change your address back to your home address, or you may just like the scanning service enough to continue using it.